Everybody Razzle Dazzle in Liverpool

Rob Almeida
Total Views: 8
May 13, 2015

Screenshot via YouTube/Liverpool Biennial

This is what happens when you give full artistic license, a ship and a lot of paint to British artist Sir Peter Blake.

Blake, not to be confused with the late Kiwi yachtsman of the same name, is an English pop artist and best known for co-creating the sleeve design for the Beatles’ album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. He was commissioned by Liverpool Biennial, 14-18 NOW: First World War Centenary Art Commissions and Tate Liverpool to “dazzle” the Mersey Ferry Snowdrop, in partnership with Merseytravel and National Museums Liverpool.

The Snowdrop is the third vessel to be conspicuously camouflaged following last year’s transformation of the Edmund Gardner using designs by renowned artist Carlos Cruz-Diez and the HMS President by artist Tobias Rehberger.

Built in 1918, HMS President sported a dazzle paint scheme during the First World War.

Rehberger describes his work on the HMS President, “normally you blend an object into its background, but there, it is like you blend an object into itself.”

The Liverpool Biennial provide some historical context to Dazzle painting:

Dazzle painting was a system for camouflaging ships that was introduced in early 1917, at a time when German submarines were threatening to cut off Britain’s trade and supplies. The idea was not to ‘hide’ the ships, but to paint them in such a way that their appearance was optically distorted, so that it was difficult for a submarine to calculate the course the ship was travelling on, and so know from what angle to attack. The dazzle was achieved by painting the ship in contrasting stripes and curves that broke up its shape. Characterised by garish colours and a sharp patchwork design of interlocking shapes, the spectacular ‘dazzle’ style was heavily indebted to Cubism.

Dazzle painting was invented by a marine painter, a future President of the Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolours. Artist Edward Wadsworth, who supervised the application of ‘dazzle’ patterning to over 2,000 ships, later made a series of paintings on the subject.Though the practice has largely (but not entirely) fallen out of fashion in the military, ‘dazzle’ remains a source of inspiration to artists today.


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